4 min read

The Process of an Ethics Investigation (from Start to Finish)

In the corporate world, your business’s reputation is worth its weight in gold. Many studies and surveys have shown that customers and shareholders prefer to engage with companies that are known for being highly ethical. What’s more, ethical business practices can prevent your company from suffering the financial burdens of lawsuits and fees due to misconduct.

Of course, your company is comprised of many individuals, and it is possible that some employees may not be as dedicated to ethics as you are. Therefore, it’s so important to conduct proper ethics investigations whenever you get word of non-compliance, misconduct, or any other form of unethical behavior. A thorough ethics investigation can bring the bad behavior to an end, weed out workers who don’t meet your company standards and help foster a corporate culture based on doing what’s right.

 But what, exactly, IS a “proper ethics investigation”? Here’s everything you need to know.

What Warrants an Ethics Investigation?

There are many issues that can lead to an ethics investigation for your company. These can include:

  • Health and safety violations
  • Time theft (altering time sheets to receive greater earnings)
  • Office theft or fraud
  • Misconduct (harassment, workplace violence, etc.)

However, there is a simpler answer to this question: EVERY employee complaint warrants an ethics investigation. This is because ethics investigations can often lead companies to discover inappropriate behavior. According to the National Whistleblower Center (NWC), employee whistleblowers expose fraud within an organization about 43% of the time; by contrast, professional auditors successfully identified fraud only 19% of the time. 

Additionally, investigations prevent any problem your employee has with your company from escalating further. The NWC also reports that over 89% of employees who sue their employers initially reported a complaint internally. These employees only turned to litigation when it became clear that their managers, HR staff, or others within the company were not going to make a change to resolve the issue. Simply taking an employee complaint seriously and conducting an internal investigation can save your organization tons of money in legal fees.

What is the Process of the Investigation?

Once you get wind of an employee ethics complaint – whether it’s from a manager, a third-party hotline, or from the employee himself – it is vital that you begin the investigation process as soon as possible. Make sure that your investigation follows the template below to get the most thorough and successful investigation you can!

The Initial Complaint

Firstly, an ethics investigation begins when someone alerts your company of any unethical behavior. There are many ways you can receive the complaint; the employee might inform their manager or the HR department, or they may call your company’s tip hotline (assuming you have one set up through an outside vendor).

The individual who received the complaint should document as much information as they can about the alleged misconduct. Who is the employee accusing? What information can the employee give you about the behavior? Take any complaint seriously and ask specific questions about who, what, where, and when. Then, it is important to forward this information both to HR and to the department most affected by the incident.

The Investigation

Once your organization decides to fully investigate an employee’s claim (and remember, it’s always wise to do this), you’ll have to select an investigator to help get to the bottom of the situation. The investigator will be responsible for conducting interviews with employees, gathering evidence and other documentation, and ultimately determining whether the allegation is true.

During this time, it is vital that you work quickly (so the unethical behavior stops as soon as possible), be incredibly thorough (to find the truth), and reassure your employees that everything they tell you in confidential and non-retaliatory (so they will be more honest).

Avoid asking employees loaded or leading questions during the interviews. Protect your employees’ privacy. And above all, REMAIN CALM AND PROFESSIONAL. This will help ensure a smoother investigation.

The Aftermath

Once your investigation is complete, your company’s designated investigator will need to present all the information he or she has gathered and give a recommendation for how the company should move forward. This may involve disciplinary action against the accused employee, as well as policy changes to prevent the incident from happening again.

But however your company decides to handle the incident, there is one thing you ABSOLUTELY MUST do: write a detailed and comprehensive report on the investigation. Not only will this be a useful tool to reference in future investigations, it provides clear evidence of everything that occurred during the investigation (just in case the accused employee tries to dispute any discipline they receive).

Importance of a Proper Investigation

A proper ethics investigation will weed out bad actors within your company, which helps you build a more honest workforce for the future. But conducting a “proper” investigation isn’t just about being dogged in your search for the truth – it’s also about being unbiased, professional, and protective of your employees’ privacy.

If you begin your investigation already convinced of an employee’s guilt or innocence, you will be more likely to seek out evidence that supports your conclusion. In this case, even the most thorough investigators will not be effective, as their research isn’t based on an unbiased desire to learn what really happened.

Additionally, confidentiality is a necessity during these investigations – particularly when they involve an accused employee. Your employees likely have formed friendships with one another, and that can make things complicated during the investigation process. Your employees must know that the information they share with you is completely confidential, so they can feel comfortable telling you things about their colleagues.

If you follow these tips, you will be able to conduct your investigations effectively and easily – and your business will be all the better for it! Visit ComplianceLine today to learn more about ethics investigations, training programs, and third-party hotline services that can help make your company a more ethical environment.

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